The Talk Talk Club

by Francine Cohen

In general, it's not nice to talk about people when they're not around. And none of us like it when we discover that people talk about us "behind our backs" - but there's an exception to these rules as any savvy brand knows...hiring a publicist so that they will talk about you. A lot!

With SO many brands out there, in every category, vying for trade and consumer attention, speed rack and shelf space, market share and depletions there seems to be a strong argument for allocating funds towards having an advocate for the brand.

Amanda Hathaway , Senior Account Supervisor, Wagstaff Worldwide, sums up the benefit of working with public relations professionals , "A PR firm can help shape a brand’s public image, tell the product story, and most importantly clarify the points of distinction in relations to other spirits in the category – i.e. what makes your spirit special."

Being distinct and noticeable is key to brand growth and success. Sara Gorelick, Account Supervisor, Colangelo & Partners Public Relations, knows this and makes sure her clients get the full value of collaborating with a public relations team," PR helps to distinguish brands in a crowded market. At my agency we not only focus on working with media, but help push through sales of our brands at accounts, manage social media pages, host events...these days PR really runs the gamut. In the crowded sea of alcohol brands out there, a strong PR campaign will prevent your voice from getting lost."

Finding a way to keep your brand top of mind is job one of a PR professional. A firm's ability to keep you visible is due to the fact that PR firms have extensive reach with the media and provide media opportunities the brand wouldn’t otherwise learn about.

Shawn Kelley, Director of Public Relations, Pernod Ricard, values the media relations expertise that a publicist brings to a brand. She remarks, "Working with a professional PR firm or person, they know what writers want and that’s why you hire them. They know what content is going to get picked up and what is newsworthy and isn’t.  They can cut through the clutter. They can also pitch the right people. There are certain people you go to for certain things. And a pro knows that."

While Hathaway adds, "Firms such as Wagstaff are regarded as sources by journalists and many media outlets and we know how to find unique angles and just the right producer/writer/blogger who will be receptive to that angle of the brand’s story."  Like Gorelick, Hathaway and her team know they bring more to the table then just media clips.  They see themselves as integral partners in a brand's business development.

Hathaway comments, "Media coverage is not only about building brand awareness amongst consumers, media coverage can also help create an arsenal of tools to help persuade investors and distributors to support your brand.  To that point is a big misconception I’ve seen- that brands think they should only get media coverage when they are in specific markets. But if they want to build their distribution network and get national coverage even when they are not available nationally, that bit of media coverage can help them gain distributors since distributors seem to see that if a brand is getting media coverage and perceived as a viable product by the media that translates to it being a worthy product for them to distribute."

Case in point, when Hathaway worked on fledgling brands Tanteo and Karlsson's Gold she saw them reap the rewards by leveraging early media coverage to gain investors and expand distribution network.

That investor and distributor appeal was piqued thanks to the added benefit an outside consultant brings to the table by ensuring that all communication about the brand isn't coming directly from the brand. Messaging solely from a brand perspective is often referred to as advertising and their messaging is often suspect because what brand isn't going to say they are awesome?

Everyone knows that and views their crowing through a skeptical lens. Instead PR counsel identifies those champions outside the brand to endorse it; thereby making the messaging more believable. Kelley says, "Part of the reason that brands need PR is that it is providing true editorial instead of advertising and you get third party credibility from writers or people that are talking about the brands – bartenders, chefs, retailers. There can’t be a better way to promote your product than to get your customers to talk about your brand."

She continues, "With social media now there are a lot of people doing their own PR on their brands. But it’s like pushing content out from the source. Not that it’s not reliable, but it’s biased. You’re promoting yourself as opposed to someone else doing it for you."  Meryl Cooper, co-founder/principle Allen Cooper Enterprises concurs, “In PR we like to say advertising is something you pay for, PR is something you pray for.  If you’re putting all your eggs in the PR basket and hoping that the message comes the way you want, buy advertising.  If you want to build a following and get that third party endorsement which we all know is effective then PR is your lead tool.  For example, if you walk into a restaurant and it says on the wall number 1 coffee you’re less likely to believe it as reading it in NY Magazine when they say the coffee is number one.

Doing that heavy lifting includes a PR advisor leveraging relationships. Hathaway notes, "They have extensive connections with other brands – culinary, chefs, lifestyle – and can use that to the spirits brand’s advantage by forming partnerships."

So when is the right time to hire on a PR firm? A brand can bring on PR counsel at any time; there's value in growing your budget through word of mouth sales and coverage and bringing in assistance mid-stream to course correct or enhance the vision but ideally, allocating a PR line item from the birth of the brand to set strategic and tactical goals and make sure they are on track contributes to its overall flourishing .

Hathaway notes, "A PR firm can help change positioning, reach new audiences, or target a specific market. For example, when Wagstaff worked with the Glenrothes and wanted to market towards women – Wagstaff created a campaign creating events entirely targeting women and it was about whiskey and women. PR firms know which outlets influence which audiences. It might not even be a media outlet, it might be an event, like Taste of the Nation. The firms can navigate that process and make sure the brand gets the most value out of it than just being listed in the event program."

No matter when you budget for PR it may be difficult to easily grasp the importance of this expenditure as there is not always an immediate cause and effect in the same way that a collection of parts come together on an assembly line and at the end result in a tangible item you can buy and drive. PR can be a bit more elusive as you are investing in long term sales results. But, just as you didn't build a brand in a day, so too should you nurture your PR efforts.

Gorelick adds, “We always tell our clients that taking on PR is like joining a gym – you get out of it what you put into it. We need to be your communications partner, pushing you every single day to gain information, get insights into your story and really be a part of your world. Otherwise you will have signed up, but not necessarily have the results you wanted. It’s the collaboration, creativity and hard work that will get you there.”

To this end, to ensure a long and fruitful result, make sure you hire the right firm for you. Want to play in the food world? There is value in looking at PR practitioners with a roster of hospitality clients. Hoping to hit the club scene or get noticed in gossip rags with celebrity endorsements? Than a high profile, celebrity and entertainment focused agency may be a better fit for you.   Cooper notes, “That’s the thing with PR – not all PR people are created equally.  If you’re looking to hire someone and your budgets are limited you want to make sure your PR person is passionate about your brand, has the connections needed to get the placements you seek, is welling to get creative and be a problem solver if and when roadblocks are hit, and looks for news along the way. 

Ultimately, if you take the time to talk through all your options with the myriad qualified PR professionals out there you'll find just the right one you want out there talking about your brand.

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